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The Myth of Defunding Obamacare

There’s yet another fight brewing in Washington, D.C.  Not only is Congress met with the task of passing another continuing resolution on the budget, but our federally elected officials also must come to a deal on the debt ceiling as federal spending once again approaches its limits.

And given that the alternative is a government shutdown, both Republicans and Democrats have incentives—and some leverage—to get things passed.

But the one piece of leverage that seems to be getting the most play, in the media and in conservative circles, is the “Defund Obamacare” movement.  Sounds great, as a talking point—why wouldn’t we want to defund the one piece of legislation that is causing employers throughout the nation to cut hours and jobs and threatens the very fabric of the American middle class?  It certainly makes for a compelling argument.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take into account both policy and political realities.  First and foremost, in the policy realm, nearly all of Obamacare is mandatory spending—Congress can’t simply undo the appropriation.  That’s not to say it can’t be done, but it’s certainly a heavy, heavy lift.

Several weeks back, the Washington Examiner published some facts on defunding Obamacare:

  • Shutting down the government won’t defund Obamacare: Almost all Obamacare spending is “mandatory spending.” Obamacare authorized that spending until the end of time, and it doesn’t need to be appropriated every year. So under a government shutdown, we’d run out of discretionary spending, but most of Obamacare would keep humming.
  • A continuing resolution could defund Obamacare: Just because it’s “mandatory” doesn’t mean it’s invincible. A continuing resolution could contain a “policy rider,” as appropriations bills often do, which really does defund Obamacare.
  • Defunding Obamacare would require cooperation of the Senate and the White House: Because you’d need to pass a CR defunding Obamacare to actually defund the mandatory-spending portions of Obamacare, that would need to pass both chambers and get the White House signature. You can’t defund Obamacare without Obama.

It’s that last part that’s the trickiest—President Obama would have to sign off on destroying his presidency’s one and only piece of landmark legislation.  A government shutdown would have little to no effect on the law.  Heck, a shutdown would have little to no effect on government at all:

The report substantiates the argument that a shutdown would not be an effective tool to stop the law. This is because much of the law relies on mandatory funding and multiple-year and no-year discretionary funds, which are not beholden to annual budget debates.

In fact, a government shutdown is quite different from the way it is commonly viewed by the public. Although the lapse in discretionary budget authority would likely impact some day-to-day routine operations of the government—such as the National Park Service—essential and necessary functions of the government and ones that have relevant health-based concerns would continue. Social Security and Medicare would likely continue in large part because they are mandatory programs; health reform under the ACA would also be considered essential for public health and would largely continue to be funded.

One of the latest headlines from AEI’s Jim Pethokoukis sums it up quite nicely:


The article goes on to describe the backlash that Republicans could see should a government shutdown occur, which is backed up by poll after poll showing that Republicans would bear the brunt of the blame:

“Only a third would consider President Barack Obama responsible for a shutdown, with 51% pointing a finger at the GOP – up from 40% who felt that way earlier this year,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

That’s the political reality of the GOP attempts at defunding Obamacare—it just won’t work, even if Republicans make good on the promise to shut down the government.  Any attempts from groups trying to beat the war drums on defunding Obamacare are simply making noise in an attempt to blame some mythical “establishment,” as if there was actually anyway to possibly defund the law.  And of course, that kind of fear mongering has its perks.

More to the political point, a shutdown has little chance to actually accomplish anything, and it carries with it the danger of alienating voters ahead of crucial elections in 2014 and 2016.  With little reward and huge risk, is that really the smart play here, especially as Obamacare crumbles beneath its own weight?

While polling shows the GOP would bear the blame for a government shutdown, those same polls show that voters hate Obamacare:

According to the poll, support for Obamacare appears to be dropping.

In January 51% said they favored all or most of the provisions in the new law. Now that figure is down to 39%.

Support has dropped in virtually all demographic categories, but it has fallen the farthest among two core Democratic groups – women and Americans who make less than $50,000.

It’s no secret why voters have grown to despise the law, as hours have been cut, healthcare coverage has been dropped and even the law’s most staunch supporters have begun to ask for its repeal.

And all of that came before this bit of bad news for Northeast Ohio:

The Cleveland Clinic has told workers they will be laying off an unspecified number of employees as part of an overall, sweeping cost-reduction plan.

She attributed most of the budget reductions to looming changes accompanying the start of the Affordable Health Care Act.

Sheil said the Clinic had not made overall layoffs in the past 11 years.

For over a decade and through one of the worst recessions in our nation’s history, the Cleveland Clinic survived without layoffs.  Obamacare comes around, and it’s handing out a whopping 3,000 pink slips.

That’s what Barack Obama, Sherrod Brown and other Congressional Democrats voted for.  And it’s exactly what they don’t want to own come election season.  Why else would Obama decide to unilaterally (and unconstitutionally) delay the employer mandate?  He’s afraid of the law’s devastating effects ahead of a crucial election in 2014, where the U.S. Senate is seriously in play.

Now, just to head off the “cheerleader for failure” arguments from our liberal readers, I’m just reporting the facts: Obamacare IS having these drastic and negative effects on employers throughout the nation.  That’s happening whether I opine on it or not.  Perhaps our liberal friends should instead ask themselves why they support a law that is crippling the American economy.

So the question remains, why would the GOP want to provide Democrats an escape?  At the very least, why would the GOP want to shift the blame with a possible government shutdown?  That’s exactly what the “defund Obamacare” movement is doing.

Put simply, the reality doesn’t jive with the rhetoric.  Defunding Obamacare is a myth, tied up in a pretty bow.  It’s not serious policy.

If the GOP is determined to get this thing off the books, they need to concentrate on retaking the U.S. Senate in 2014, reigning in President Obama, and eventually replacing him after voters see exactly what a destructive force his landmark policy truly is.


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Third Base Politics is an Ohio-centric conservative blog that has been featured at Hot Air, National Review, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and others.


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